Category Archives: Human Rights

Brewed Awakening: Serving fair trade coffee, tea and speakers to stir the social conscience

Check out this Wednesday night speaker series sponsored by my friend and colleague Jamie Gates, at Point Loma Nazarene University. Critical analysis of social issues and smart conversation from a faith perspective.

Sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation, the Brewed Awakening series gives a platform to speakers who bring critical analysis of pressing contemporary social issues while pointing to ways of engaging these issues with hopeful alternatives.  The Brewed Awakening series showcases individuals and organizations with keen insight as well as practical ways of getting people involved.  Special attention is given to Christians who are engaged in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.  All speakers are encouraged to reflect on the relationship between their passion for justice, their actions and their faith.


Wednesday, February 9
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Friendship at the Border: Developing a cross-border peace park in San Diego/Tijuana
Friends of Friendship Park, www.friendshippark.org
Located where the US-Mexico border meets the Pacific Ocean, Friendship Park is a unique venue of great historical significance. It has served as the centerpiece of California’s Border Field State Park since its inauguration by then-First Lady Pat Nixon in 1971. PLNU has co-sponsored the annual advent celebration La Posada sin Fronteras at the park for the past 8 years.  Recent changes to the border fence have marred Friendship Park and destroyed the space as a place where families divided by nations can freely gather.  Friends of Friendship Park is calling for a restoration of Friendship Park both for the sake of cross-border friends and families and as a symbol of hope for more peaceful times.


Tuesday, March 15
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Modern Abolitionists: Border interceptions in the 21st century slave trade
Jenna Hudlow, Tiny Hands International, http://www.tinyhandsinternational.org/

Tiny Hands is a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the church in the developing world to help the poor overcome poverty and become lights of the world.  We are committed to finding the greatest injustices in the world, and working towards relieving them however possible.  We are particularly called to orphans, street children, and the victims of the sex-trafficking industry. We want to find those who are already doing the work, who are called and faithful, and help them do it in greater ways and with more efficiency. We do it all in obedience to, and for the glory of Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, April 12
Colt Forum, Point Loma Nazarene University
7pm (6:30 coffee)
Sabbath-Jubilee Economics: Putting radical Biblical economics into practice
Ched Myers, Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, http://bcm-net.org/

In the story of the poor man Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Mark’s gospel gives us an archetypal portrait of the journey from “blindness” to faith (relief sculpture left by Charles McCollough). We believe that Christians should stand for compassion and equity, and against all forms of oppression and violence in these difficult times. To do this we must face our personal and political blindness to the realities of human suffering, as well as to God’s horizons of justice. Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is a group of believers committed to revisioning the relationship between the Word and our world, in order to help animate and build capacity for communities of discipleship and justice.


For more information, contact Dr. Jamie Gates, 619.849.2659 or cjr@pointloma.edu .

Learn more about the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at www.pointloma.edu/cjr

For directions to the university, call 619.849.2200 or go to http://www.pointloma.edu/Directions

New video on borders & migration: “We Are One”

In July 2009, I met a group of French filmmakers from Marseilles at a border wall event at the Centro Cultural de la Raza.  The filmmakers–Romain de l’Ecotais, Maxime Rostan and Guillaume Vidal–had been traveling for weeks through Latin America & Mexico, documenting border walls and migrations in the Americas.  In San Diego, they traversed the border with Enrique Morones of Border Angels, and visited the cemetery for migrants in Holtville and later took a tour down to Friendship Park.

Today they sent me a link to their video, titled We Are One, a King Size Trip Production, with music by Watcha Clan.


Border Walls versus Environmental Justice

Contributed by No Border Wall 4 February 2011

In 1994 President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898 to address the issue of Environmental Justice. It instructs federal agencies to identify and address actions that might have “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects… on minority populations and low-income populations.” EO 12898 remains in effect today, but in building border walls the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has chosen to ignore it.

Since the passage of the Secure Fence Act around 650 miles of border wall have been built, slicing though towns, farms, and natural areas. Southern border states have rates of poverty that are significantly higher than the national average. In 2009 Arizona had the second highest poverty rate in the nation, New Mexico had the third highest, and Texas came in seventh. Within these states communities along the border tend to be the poorest. The 2007 list of 10 counties with the lowest median incomes in the nation included the Texas border counties of El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron, all three of which now have border walls.

Rather than act to minimize the border wall’s impacts on these communities, DHS used the Real ID Act to waive 36 federal laws. The Safe Drinking Water Act, Farmland Protection Policy Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and other laws that protect the rest of the nation no longer protect border communities. Equal protection under the law does not apply to those who live along the border.

This has led to a host of negative impacts on border communities. The economic impacts of land condemnation and damage to family farms have hit economically disadvantaged communities. Walls have cause severe flooding in Lukeville, Arizona, and across the border in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, where two people drowned. In Texas wetlands have been destroyed, and construction has caused serious erosion, further degrading the Rio Grande, which is the source of drinking and irrigation water for border residents.

In documents released before wall construction began, DHS stated that each of the Texas communities living in the path of the wall, “meets these two criteria [high percentages of minority and low-income residents] as a potential environmental justice population.” DHS went on to claim, however, that “the Secretary’s waiver means that CBP no longer has any specific obligation under Executive Order (EO) 12898.” While the first statement is backed by census data, the claim that DHS is not bound by the executive order is false, because the executive order was not listed among the 36 laws that DHS waived. But the assertion has meant that little effort has gone into lessening the impacts of border walls on border communities, or including them in decision-making.

South Texas Communities

To build border walls the federal government filed condemnation lawsuits against more than 400 Texas landowners, in communities that are 85 – 90% Hispanic and have rates of poverty that are more than twice the state average.

In Hidalgo and Cameron counties, where border walls were built along existing levees, homes, businesses, farms, and privately-owned nature preserves have been cut in two, or even walled off entirely, trapped between the border wall and the Rio Grande.

DHS has only to paid for the exact footprint of the border wall (typically, a 60-foot wide strip) as it passes through a parcel of land. The agency has completely discounted the hardships that the border wall will bring to landowners, such as the devaluation of contiguous property, access to farm land and homes, and impacts on livelihood.

In south Texas there are 21 separate border walls, totaling 70 linear miles, with wide gaps between sections. Border residents noticed that walls tended to be built through the lands of low-income families, but stopped abruptly at the property line of landowners such as the Hunt family, who, coincidentally, donated millions for the construction of the Bush Presidential Library.

Researchers from the University of Texas who examined this determined, “Our comparison of the areas planned to be fenced along the border with those areas where ‘gaps’ in the fence are planned suggests disproportionate impact on individuals with lower income and education, Hispanic ethnicity and non-U.S. citizenship status.”

Tohono O’odham Nation

The Tohono O’odham nation in Southern Arizona is split by 75 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, with 1,500 out of 20,000 tribal members living south of the line. As in many Native American nations poverty is widespread. According to the 2000 census the average income on the reservation was $8,137, compared to a national average of $26,940. Life expectancy was eight years less than the national average.

Speaking before a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on the border wall, O’odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said, “We are older than the international boundary with Mexico and had no role in creating the border. But our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes, and families divided.”

Chairman Norris went on to state that, with the waiving of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, “… fragments of human remains were observed in the tire tracks of heavy construction equipment. Barriers and the border road now cross the site.”

“Imagine a bulldozer parking in your family graveyard, turning up bones. This is our reality.”

Chairman Norris concluded, “We know from our own experience living on the border that security can be improved while respecting the rights of tribes and border communities, while fulfilling our duty to the environment and to our ancestors, and without granting any person the power to ignore the law.”


Posted By Blogger to No Border Wall at 2/03/2011 06:41:00 PM

See also

No Border Wall

Border Wall in the News

Designing dignity

December 16, 2010 Originally published in San Diego City Beat

The second in our series on border art looks at the architect behind the proposed design of Friendship Park

by Kinsee Morlan


When James Brown was in his 20s, he walked, on a whim, from his house in San Diego to Tecate, Mexico. Including a quick stop in La Mesa to bowl, the trek took 48 hours.
Brown’s drawn to Mexico, but that isn’t really why he got involved in the redesign of Friendship Park, the plaza inside Border Field State Park in San Ysidro, where the United States ends and Mexico begins. His interest in the highly politicized plot of land began in 2008 in Cambridge, Mass., when he was awarded the Loeb Fellowship and spent a year of independent study at Harvard. Those 12 months were the first time in a long time that Brown, who runs Public Architecture with his partner James Gates, had time to take a step back.

“The program really challenged me to think,” the soft-spoken Brown says. “I didn’t feel like I’d done much to help my city, as a leader, especially. I’ve done some great buildings, some great art and furniture…. But I wanted to try.”

As recently as 2008, Friendship Park was a place where people in Mexico could meet with family in the U.S. It was an opportunity for those separated by immigration status to talk in person and even touch. But photos of fathers linking hands with their children through the fence, or couples picnicking on the beach separated only by a few rusty poles are the only remnants of the park’s former state.

“This is degrading somehow—it’s dehumanizing,” Peter Zamora says, standing on the Tijuana side of Friendship Park a few weeks ago. For years, Zamora lived in San Diego and used the park to meet his wife and kids. He was recently deported, but he and his family frequently come back to visit the place where they spent so much invaluable time. He’s watched the park change dramatically in the last few years. “You know the dog pound?” Zamora asked. “That’s what it feels like now. I’m about to start barking.”

In late 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to build a double border fence and increase security. In early 2009, the department surprised everyone when it said that construction plans included the full closure of Friendship Park. By February of 2009, Border Patrol agents started denying access to the plaza. Border activists protested and worked hard that year to get access to the park. By November of 2009, they regained limited entry. The Army Corps of Engineers added a gate to the new fence, which can be opened only during certain hours on certain days. Visitors are allowed to walk through what’s been described as a “cattle run” to get to yet another short fence, which keeps people roughly five feet away from the original border fence. Visitors are only allowed to stay 30 minutes and can no longer touch friends and family on the other side.

“The mistruth that several Border Patrol officials have stated regarding the opening is, ‘Well, everybody got 99 percent of what they wanted,’ which is completely and utterly false,” says John Fanestil, executive director of Foundation for Change and a member of Friends of Friendship Park, a coalition formed in 2008 to push for more access to the park. Brown’s proposal, Fanestil adds, “doesn’t even get us 99 percent of what we want, but it gets us a long way. He’s done a masterful job of accommodating some of the concerns [of the Border Patrol], but it would be equally false for me to say his design meets all of their concerns.”

That’s Brown’s biggest challenge—designing a park that includes both the dignity and freedom desired by border activists and the control demanded by the U.S. government.

Back at Harvard, Brown used his time to conceptualize a binational park that would include huge swaths of land in both the United States and Mexico. “I didn’t know anything about the Friends of Friendship Park at this time,” he says. “So, I was just working on my own thing…. I was very much in a vacuum.”

Brown walks through his office in University Heights, where he’s laid out drawings and models he built during his fellowship.

“My idea would be to have the trolley snake out there,” he says, pointing at a drawing hanging on the wall. “And there would be a pedestrian and bicycle crossing—no cars.”

The Friends of Friendship Park came across Brown’s work on the binational park at Mix: Nine San Diego Architects and Designers, an exhibition on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego last year.

Brown met with the group and volunteered to come up with a more realistic design to allow greater access to the park. The resulting design isn’t as idealistic as his original plans for a binational park, but it’s a start. The proposal includes a 60-foot rolling gate that can be opened all the way or closed depending on the Border Patrol’s comfort level. Many of the gates currently inside the park would be replaced with knee-high looping chains, and paths would lead down to the beach and to private meeting areas where families could sit and talk. A grove of native trees would stretch across the border.

“We’re proposing three main points,” Brown explains. “We want access to the monument. We want access to the binational garden and we want to get access to the beach.

“This is the feeling it would give,” Brown continues, unrolling a printout of the design. “Instead of that closed-off feeling, it would have some semblance to a regular park.”

A few months ago, without any warning, a high-tech security tower was built on the U.S. side, just outside Friendship Park. The tower adds to the overall ominous and militarized atmosphere. The gesture is symbolic, Brown says, of the attitudes of the Department of Homeland Security.

“It seems impenetrable to me at times,” he says. “We’ve been meeting with the Border Patrol forever; you’d think they would have told us about the tower.”

Border Patrol spokesperson Steven Pitts says Brown’s design is currently with the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s being looked at seriously,” Pitts says.

But Brown and the Friends of Friendship Park know it’s going to take a big push to move the plans forward.

“We’ve been waiting for the right time,” Fanestil says, “but soon we will mobilize again in support of the plan that Jim Brown is developing, and we’ll continue to advocate for greater and greater access.”

Brown has faith. The group of activists behind his design has already seen success in gaining limited access to the park, and he thinks that with their support, his work will see the light of day. The moment they get the green light from the U.S. government, Brown says, the next hurdle—finding the money— won’t be a problem.

“The funding will come,” Brown says. “If we could possibly get to the point where the Border Patrol would say, ‘Well, yes, we don’t have a problem with this, but where are we going to get the money?’ that would be a huge victory. We would find a way to do it if we could get to that critical stage.”

Photo Credits: Kinsee Morlan

Got comments or questions? Email kinseem@sdcitybeat.com

Immigrant rights and environmental organizations come together on issues of immigration

Sierra Club unites with Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

November 2, 2010

Contact: Bill Chandler, MIRA, (601) 968-5183

Sean Sullivan, Sierra Club Borderlands Team, (520) 250-9040

JACKSON, MS – At this year’s 5th annual Unity Conference, sponsored by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Sierra Club will add environmental issues to the lineup. The conference, being held in on November 4-5, 2010 at the Cabot Lodge Millsaps in Jackson, MS, is the largest gathering in the state that focuses on immigrant and worker rights and Black/Brown Unity. For the 5th year, MIRA and SCLC come together to analyze our common struggles and plan for the future.

“While the Sierra Club is neutral on immigration, we have never been neutral on environmental destruction.” says Sean Sullivan, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club Borderlands Team and Jackson resident. The Sierra Club will be hosting a photo exhibit which depicts how the land, wildlife, and people of the borderlands are being negatively impacted by newly constructed border walls. Entrance to the exhibit is free of charge and be open for viewing 5:30pm – 8:30pm Nov 2 – Nov 4 and from 9:00am – 9:00pm on Nov 5 during the Unity Conference.

Bill Chandler, Executive Director of MIRA is pleased with the Sierra Club’s participation. “The Unity Conference welcomes the efforts of the Sierra Club to shed light on the reckless and destructive border polices wreaking havoc on the US-Mexico border. Walls have not stopped people from coming here to work, the walls forced people to shift where they cross to remote areas resulting the deaths of thousands of people in the desert.”, says Chandler.

Since 1995, the number of border-crossing deaths increased and by 2005 had more than doubled. More than 5,000 migrants have died from dehydration and exposure. It is estimated that thousands of undiscovered bodies lie undiscovered along the border.

“To address this complicated issue, we need to look at the root causes of migration. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA. Small farmers in central Mexico cannot compete with government subsidized corn flowing south from big agri-business. These farmers are then forced to the Mexican border, to work in unsafe and environmentally hazardous factories. These types of agreements are not sustainable and must be re-examined.”, says Sullivan.

Chandler added, “it is refreshing to see a national environmental organization like the Sierra Club take this kind of stand on immigration issues. Too often nativist groups have tried to hide their xenophobic views behind environmental values.”

This year, we celebrate MIRA’s 10 years of advocacy, and look ahead to unique challenges and opportunities in the upcoming year, including the 2011 legislative cycle, redistricting, and the national immigration reform debate. The conference serves as the meeting ground for over 150 community organization leaders, activists, and volunteers; elected and appointed officials; members of the corporate, philanthropic, and academic communities; senior citizens; college students; and youth. Speakers will include: Maria Jimenez from Texas, Isabel Garcia, Arizona immigrant rights leader, and Bill Fletcher, Jr., a leading civil rights and labor leader in the AFL-CIO from Washington, D.C.

Border residents oppose calls for deployment of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border

San Diego organizations join a borderwide network



Contact:
Ricardo Favela
Strategic Communications Coordinator

San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium
(760) 468-4519
communicate@immigrantsandiego.org.

Louie Gilot
Policy Director, Border Network for Human Rights
2115 N. Piedras, El Paso, TX 79930
(915) 274-0541
lgilot@bnhr.org.

May 26, 2010 — Organizations representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have written a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. The organizations believe the deployment is ill-conceived and motivated by electoral politics rather than focused on the needs of border communities.

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories to the letter.

However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. Worse, community safety is being sacrificed by those who believe that soldiers trained for war belong near family neighborhoods or should be involved in enforcing civilian laws. We cannot forget that in 1997, U.S. Marines sent to secure the border, shot and killed a teenage U.S. citizen who was peacefully herding goats.

“We are frustrated and disappointed by the Obama Administration because this strategy is a recipe for disaster. This militarization will further alienate border communities and jeopardize the success of border security goals and the fight against real criminal threats,” said Fernando Garcia, Executive Director for the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas, who also signed the letter.

It is time to rethink our border policy. Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by misallocating resources. Humane border policies should emphasize quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

Read the full letter which follows the media advisory.

The organizations who signed the letter are: American Friends Service Committee (CA); San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (CA); San Diego Foundation for Change (CA); Border Action Network (AZ); First Christian Church of Tucson (AZ); ACLU Regional Center for Border Rights (NM); Border Network for Human Rights (TX); Immigrant Justice Alliance (TX); Freedom Ambassadors (TX); U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force; Casa de Proyecto Libertad (TX); and Project Puente (TX).

###

To: President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

To: Members of the U.S. Congress
Washington, DC

Border residents oppose calls for deployment of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border

Border communities who had hoped for a rational and accountable border policy from the Obama Administration are deeply disappointed at the news of the authorization to deploy National Guard troops to the border. We are also deeply disappointed by calls from Congress to deploy as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.

Proposals to deploy the National Guard are ill-conceived and motivated by electoral politics rather than border realities. In the course of history, presidents have rarely called up the National Guard. Deployment of these forces has almost always been limited to emergency situations and for good reason. The creation of a national police force is anathema to our fundamental values and to the protection of individual liberties.

As men and women living in the border region, which includes metropolitan areas as well as small towns, we have tried time and again to share our concerns about the militarization of the region with members of the Administration and members of Congress. But it seems we are not being heard and the policies of this Administration, far from being the change that we were promised, mirror the policies of the prior Administration and may even be worse with respect to border enforcement.

To be clear, there is no emergency at the border that would warrant the deployment of the National Guard. Immigration flows are down and border cities are among the safest in the country. Violent crime is rare and when it does happen, as in the case of the Arizona rancher who was recently killed, the perpetrator is more likely to be a citizen than an immigrant. The only “emergency” is the political emergency of upcoming elections.

As residents of the border region, we refuse to allow our communities and our quality of life to be sacrificed in a political game played far away from this region by people with little appreciation for the vibrancy of the region and who are motivated by politics rather than actual border needs. We consider the deployment of the National Guard an affront to border communities and oppose the militarization of our region based on the following:

• The militarization of our border has already reached an extreme level and brought with it negative consequences for those who live there. Our economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, our civil rights are pushed aside, and our quality of life is seriously diminished. Worse, our safety is being sacrificed by those who believe that soldiers trained for war belong near family neighborhoods or should be involved in supporting domestic law enforcement. Let’s not forget that in 1997, U.S. Marines sent to help secure the border, mistakenly shot and killed a teenage U.S. citizen who was peacefully herding goats.

• Militarization is a misguided and unnecessary response that is not based in reality or in the opinions of President Obama’s own border experts. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said repeatedly that her Border Patrol agents have operational control of the border. Crime statistics in border cities and counties show that crime is both low and decreasing. Yet, we are being told once again that we must secure the border, just three years after we built a border wall, added thousands of new Border Patrol agents and deployed virtual enforcement technology.

• Militarization costs us all. Continuing to throw money, resources and military responses at the border is not fiscally responsible, efficient, or humane. The ever mounting costs of militarizing the border are costs borne by taxpayers who can ill afford ineffective and ill-conceived political responses.

• Recourse to the military as a policy option for civilian law enforcement is a disturbing precedent. Forces trained for combat, should not be used for enforcing civil laws. As a matter of fundamental U.S. political values, the military should be withdrawn from all normal law enforcement activities, even in supporting roles.
It is time to rethink our border policy. Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by misallocating resources. Humane border policies should emphasize quality law enforcement, and the effective focus of resources on real threats in the region, while ensuring that border communities are consulted on their specific needs, and that the rights and well-being of border residents are protected and upheld. Toward this end, we need the following:

• Consultation with local border communities on a regular basis about border enforcement; decisions about the border should not be made in a vacuum in D.C.

• More accountability and oversight of immigration enforcement officers, who have become the largest law enforcement presence in the border region.

• A standardized complaint process that aggregates complaints the length of the border should be implemented to better understand potential abuse of power and civil and human rights violations. Enforcement agencies should publicize this data and then use appropriate performance measures to correct gaps in current or ongoing training.

• Increased funding for ports of entry to facilitate the flow of legitimate goods and people authorized to work, visit or contribute to the nation’s economy.

• Compliance with environmental protection laws without exceptions for the border; we deserve the same protections as the rest of the country.

• Compliance with national and international civil and human rights protections, and creation of humane detention and short-term custody standards at the border.

• A zero-migrant-death standard that is incorporated into enforcement policies and practices and addresses the mounting death toll—over 5,000—of migrants who lose their lives as a result of inhumane enforcement strategies.

• Comprehensive immigration reform that moves beyond enforcement and focuses on fixing the interconnected parts of our broken immigration system.

• Economic development for Mexico, our second largest trading partner and primary source of immigration; a stronger Mexican economy would benefit both countries economically and ease migration pressures.

The federal government is as responsible for protecting the lives and well being of border residents as it is of protecting residents of the interior of the United States. Unfortunately, border residents have borne the burden of national security under the current hard-line strategy, but can do so no more. We oppose the deployment of the National Guard to the border as a misguided political response, and we urge our national leaders to pursue real solutions to border enforcement that take into account the needs of the border region.

Signed:
American Friends Service Committee (CA)
San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (CA)
San Diego Foundation for Change (CA)
Border Action Network (AZ)
First Christian Church of Tucson (AZ)
ACLU Regional Center for Border Rights (NM)
Border Network for Human Rights (TX)
Immigrant Justice Alliance (TX)
Freedom Ambassadors (TX)
Casa de Proyecto Libertad (TX)
Project Puente (TX)

Friendship Park’s intended purpose is lost in fog of border war

Los Angeles Times

by Hector Tobar, Los Angeles Times staff writer

SAN DIEGO, CA | There are just two weeks left in his presidency, but down in San Diego County the heavy machinery is grinding away at one last grand project from the administration of George W. Bush.

As The Times reported Sunday, your tax dollars are paying for contractors to move mountains of earth and make canyons disappear at the U.S.-Mexico border. New fences are rising and a no-man’s land is being carved into the Earth.

By government decree, state and federal laws that might have slowed down the project — including the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts — have been suspended in the name of national security.

This hurried display of Pharaonic excess from the people who brought us the Iraq war won’t make us much safer. It’s another bit of overkill that’s blind to the causes of illegal immigration. And it also happens to be killing a place called Friendship.

Friendship Park sits on a spot of California territory overlooking the beach where the border reaches the Pacific Ocean. In the early 1970s, President Nixon and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan established it as a symbol of international goodwill.

These days, contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have sealed off its picnic benches with hurricane fencing.

For three decades, the park has been property of the state of California and a cross-border meeting place. Fernando Orozco, a legal U.S. resident, biked there Sunday. He recently had his wallet and ID stolen, and the park is the only place where he can see his wife, Marta Ramos, a Mexican national. They embraced and kissed through the fence.

John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, is one of several activists who say they are determined to “use the park for its intended purpose.” Even as the construction project marches toward the sea, Fanestil holds Communion at the fence every week, passing a chalice of wine over or through the barriers.

“There is no accountability and no check on the power of Homeland Security,” he told me as we hiked to the fence. “What they’re doing here is almost punitive.”

Illegal border crossings at the park stopped being a major problem more than a decade ago — that traffic moved inland, to the Sonoran Desert, after the Clinton administration’s Operation Gatekeeper brought fences, cameras, floodlights and motion detectors to the area. But the current administration’s determination to build ever-higher barriers has not flagged.

In November, two members of Congress, half a dozen state legislators and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi wrote to President-elect Obama’s transition team asking that he “intervene to save Friendship Park.”

But construction has continued. And on Sunday, Fanestil, 47, passed tortillas that doubled as Communion wafers through the border. Border Patrol agents had prevented him from climbing up to the bluff and his usual spot near the picnic benches, so he held the ceremony at the beach. “Just another day at Friendship Park,” he said afterward.

A lot of history has unfolded on that spot of earth and sand, much of it reflecting the tortured and ambivalent relationship we have with our Spanish-speaking neighbor to the south.

On Oct. 10, 1849, in the wake of the Mexican War, a group of U.S. and Mexican surveyors met there and began mapping the frontier. First Lady Pat Nixon dedicated Friendship Park in 1971, and even reached across the border to shake a hand or two. Until recently, you could picnic in its half-acre plaza, or walk up to the obelisk that marks the first point in the 1849 survey. You could even put your fingers through the fence and talk to someone on the other side.

That was the era of “friendship.” John Carlos Frey, a San Diego native and filmmaker who joined me on my hike with Fanestil, remembers celebrating his ninth birthday at Friendship Park in 1972.

“My Mexican relatives passed their presents over the fence,” he said. “And we could walk over to the Mexican side and buy some tacos if we liked. It wasn’t a big deal.”

Then came the era of The Wall, which was spurred by the anarchy of the 1980s and ’90s. Large crowds of illegal crossers gathered at the bluff and nearby canyons at night to rush past the overmatched Border Patrol.

The fences the Clinton administration built in response shifted illegal immigration but didn’t stop it. In the first years of this century, migrants have paid increasingly higher fees to smugglers who ferry them through the distant desert.

Last year, when I lived in Mexico City, I knew one woman whose husband paid $3,000 to a “coyote” to get across the border. He later called from Phoenix to say the smuggler was holding him hostage and demanding $500 more. It seems crazy that anyone would try to cross that desert by dealing with such criminals — but many take the risk and make it across.

Even if the U.S. government managed to hermetically seal the land and river border, experts predict the smugglers would simply move out to the Gulf of Mexico, much like the Africans who cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe.

What will stop illegal immigration is a mega-construction project of justice on the Latin American side of the border, the sudden leveling of mountains of inequality.

That won’t happen soon. But in the meantime, the crackdown on employers and the slowdown in the U.S. economy are succeeding in keeping more people on the other side.

“They don’t want us over there any more,” a Salvadoran man named Walter told me through the fence when I visited Friendship Park last spring.

He had been deported from the U.S. a year earlier, after 15 years in Los Angeles. His wife, U.S. citizen Alicia Sandoval, had moved to Tijuana to live with him and their two children. On the weekends, they come to the park to peer into the country where they used to live.

“Tijuana is not a good place to be,” Alicia told me through the fence. “There’s too much violence.”

A few minutes later, I met another woman, Angelica, who stood on the other side of the fence with her son, 9-year-old Eduardo. She wept when I told her that a Border Patrol agent had chased everyone else away, saying the park was closed.

She had come to the fence to meet her husband, a Cuban musician who had obtained asylum in the U.S.

The boy peered through the steel mesh into the United States, as if his father might appear suddenly on the empty trails and wetlands on the other side.

hector.tobar@latimes.com